Restaurateurs hear a lot of conflicting and confusing ideas about restaurant promotions, but growing your business is an organic process that responds to nurturing efforts from the inside. A good starting plan is to limit any promotional ideas that might devalue your restaurant. You want to build your business with a solid foundation and not create unsustainable expectations from customers, such as getting food at half price. We offer the following 12-step plan to promote your restaurant as a solid way to attract guests and build a customer base in the digital age.
1. Sign-up for Success
Signs generate lots of business, so make sure that you capitalize on outdoor and in-house signs, menu boards and in-house advertising on receipts, carryout containers and table tents. Make copies of your menu, post the menu in the window and online and give your customers menus to take home. In-house signage and menus can generate an astonishing amount of business. Don’t forget to use your servers to upsell customers while they’re visiting.
2. Get Your Website Ready
You need a functional website with responsive design to get anywhere in marketing your restaurant. Make this your first priority because almost all of the best marketing ideas depend on having a website to anchor them. Publicize your website on all your advertising, promotional materials and stationery because it’s just as important as the restaurant’s physical address.
3. Define Your Goals
Decide whom you’re trying to reach so that you can map how to get there. Unless you know what kind of customer to target, you’ll have to rely on inefficient, scattershot advertising methods that cost too much and waste your resources. Once you’ve identified your ideal customers, you can plan how to reach them in the most efficient way possible. Social media allow you to target your customers precisely — especially on Facebook.
4. Optimize Your Online Presence
Claim your listings in local directories and restaurant review sites. Join the local chamber of commerce and business organizations. Send out press releases to local newspapers, magazines, schools and nearby manufacturing facilities to let them know your restaurant is open for business. Get your menu online on your website or through a third-party provider. Customers make reservations and place orders from their smartphones, so they need to be able to find your restaurant and menu online.
5. Use Multiple Advertising and Promotional Channels
You need an action plan to market successfully, and you can’t figure out how to achieve your short- and long-term goals unless you test the available marketing channels to gauge their effectiveness. A good breakdown for new restaurants is allocating 80 percent of your budget to digital marketing and 20 percent to traditional advertising, such as newspaper, directory, radio, television and billboard ads. Refer to your website in all advertising to get cross-promotional benefits.
6. Use Social Media Platforms
If you’re not using social media, you’re losing business. Get involved with the various social platforms to find what works best for your cuisine, customer base and concept. You’ll want to post content with keywords that relate to your concept, cuisine or menu. Post photos of the restaurant, offer educational posts about culinary topics and sponsor community or charitable causes.
We all spend a lot of time scrolling through our feeds on social media. Everyone is out to be the next eye-catcher. That’s where cinemagraphs come into play. These photographic elements are like a sophisticated gif. At a glance, a cinemagraph may look like a high definition photo. But look closer and you will see that one element of the photo is continuously and fluidly moving. If you want to grab the attention of passing potential customers, throw cinemagraphs on your social media frequently to catch eyes and show that you are at the cutting edge.
Using digital tools, smartphone communications and social media platforms, you can communicate directly with your existing customers and targeted prospects. Respond to people’s concerns, complaints and praise to show that you’re engaged. Encourage customers to write reviews, post photos and share their experiences online. Show your process for preparing food from the time it enters the restaurant until it reaches the customer’s plate. This kind of communication engages viewers and attracts interest from social media users. Host special events, contests or scavenger hunts to engage online audiences.
9. Monitor the Web
You can use monitoring apps or set Google alerts to find mentions of your restaurant, cuisine, chef or competitors. It’s important to stay on top of online chatter, or you could suffer from a damaged reputation. Even good news could have a negative effect if it generates lots of business that you’re not prepared to handle. Monitoring the Web is the best way to prevent surprises and capitalize on marketing opportunities.
10. Use Incentives Intelligently
If you advertise an incentive, try to add value to your food and restaurant instead of devaluing the food by discounting it. For example, it’s okay to offer a free appetizer or dessert but risky to give 50-percent off the meal. Customers don’t want to pay full price when they got the same food for half price the last time they visited. Buy-one-and-get-one-free promotions, however, are underutilized in restaurants and offer a good way to incentivize customers — especially customers who usually visit alone.
11. Differentiate Your Restaurant
If you take a look at what comes into restaurants from the loading docks, you’ll find remarkably similar ingredients that are common to every restaurant: sugar, salt, spices, flour, eggs, pasta products, potatoes, canned goods, dried beans and legumes, coffee, tea, produce, meats, cleaning supplies and paper goods. How you transform these ingredients into signature cuisines and amazing customer experiences is part science, part artistry and 100-percent propaganda.You’ve got to tell a story to differentiate your restaurant from its competitors. That doesn’t mean that the story isn’t real, but it is a point-of-view issue that reflects your personal style and restaurant theme. Using the same meat and potatoes, restaurants advertise hearty steaks and baked potatoes to appeal to traditionally minded diners, Potatoes Lyonnaise and Quenelles of Caramelized Beef Tips to appeal to upscale customers and burgers and fries to attract fast food aficionados.
Promoting your restaurant brand can sometimes mean you have to literally hit the pavement. Offering delivery is not only a major selling factor to a customer out of convenience, but it also gives you an opportunity to advertise. We talk about putting your message and brand out into the world, and what better way to achieve that? Consider the logistics of delivery for your restaurant, it has the potential to grow your brand.
13. Share Your Process
Restaurants share their stories in various ways for promotional benefits. You might have an open kitchen where diners can watch chefs at their craft or a counter where short-order cooks speed blue plate specials to customers. You can share company milestones, special events and staff biographies in newsletters, Tweets and emails. You might include information about your sourcing strategy, chef and culinary philosophy in your menu, on your website or in social posts. Behind-the-scenes stories and photos are easy ways to share your restaurant’s internal processes without revealing everything that happens in a busy restaurant. The important thing is to share something with your customers to keep them engaged.
14. Promote Your Brand
Your brand consists of your concept, mission statement, service standards, seasonal menus, social involvement and almost everything that happens in your restaurant. Always keep in mind that the restaurant business is about service and not just serving food. Use every traditional and online platform for promoting your brand, but make sure that you deliver a consistent message. A consistent message means that you use your restaurant’s logo and colors, audience-appropriate words and advertising platforms that are concept-appropriate.Some people will visit your restaurant just because it’s there, but even passersby read your signs before venturing inside. Advertising is critical, but avoid giving away the store just to get customers in seats. Following the 12 steps will build your business without costing too much, discounting food or offering daily deal specials that pay only 23 percent of your regular menu prices. Keep your restaurant lean and profitable, and grow your business gradually and organically for the best long-term benefits.